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THE DIALOG – It was nothing short of exciting when a partnership was made between George Brown student Adonia Vlasis, Girls Going Forward, a program that facilitates skills-building workshops to empower young women, and the Ministry of Education of St. Lucia.
It all started with a small purchase made by a woman originally from the island at the YWCA in Toronto.
“One of her family members just happened to be part of the (St. Lucia) Ministry of Education,” Vlasis explained.
Vlasis, currently a third-year business student at George Brown College (GBC), is the program coordinator of Girls Going Forward, one of the initiatives of the Enactus club.
Girls Going Forward was started as an anti-bullying program by GBC’s Enactus club in 2012 and hosts business skills workshops at youth centres to inspire entrepreneurship for women.
“We’re trying to educate and show that if you have interests and hobbies that you think you’re very good at, you can turn that into a business and make it profitable for you and your family,” said Vlasis.
Girls Going Forward was expanded to St. Lucia in 2015. After completing the series of workshops, some of the local women, including a library assistant Kemberley Constable, started a business called Tropical Bliss in Micoud.
Tropical Bliss is a health and beauty business that sells locally made body-scrubs, both in St. Lucia and in Canada, through the support of Girls Going Forward.
“There is a competitive advantage in the market to being an entrepreneur,” reasoned Vlasis. “We’re teaching them basic skills in business development and sales.”
Although Girls Going Forward contributed startup funds and does weekly Skype check-ins with the Tropical Bliss team, getting the business to take off in Micoud has been an uphill climb.
“The market is higher in Canada than it is in St. Lucia,” explained Constable, who manages Tropical Bliss and said getting sales still is her biggest challenge.
“Most customers are either not interested, or when we bring samples out they’d just sit there—nobody would buy it,” she said.
Tropical Bliss currently runs a Facebook page and is working on improving packaging and marketing for the company in St. Lucia.
“You have to make sure that the relationships you built remain strong with the people you work with, and that they trust you,” said Vlasis. “Ensuring communication stays constant within the program and to also be quick on your feet.”
For Constable, the lesson on empowerment and financial independence was one she took to heart.
“You have to be motivated number one, in St. Lucia right now the economy is really slow,” said Constable. “So you have to be motivated and determined.”
The most recent census data was released in 2015 by the government of St. Lucia, in which they reported the annual unemployment rate was 27.3 per cent of females versus 20.5 per cent of males. An estimate of 24,500 St. Lucians was reported to be unemployed that year.
Vlasis realized, very quickly, the urgency to establish Girls Going Forward in the nation, when she discovered the difficulties young women face when seeking work.
“Sometimes you don’t know how much of a difference you can make by just listening to someone,” explained Vlasis. “It’s the most important thing about the project.”
Vlasis plans to pursue project management and marketing after graduation.
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